Shift in looking at Mainland India

NORTH-EAST Migrants in Delhi: Race, Refuge and Retail by  Duncan McDuie-Ra (Published  by Amsterdam University Press ) is an ethnographic study of people from the North-east living and working in Delhi.  Its in-depth research brings out a range of interlinked context and an insight into the delicate, complicated and complex web of the frontier region and mainland India. It sensitively captures the everyday life of North-east population in the capital, a disturbing one perhaps, and offers an alternative view of contemporary India
The author talks to ninglun hanghal. Excerpts:
Comparatively, from 2000 there has been a rise in the number of people leaving the North-east and there was a marked change in their class profile. Does this mean that it is no longer insurgency or conflict that prompted them to leave but more of an economic migration vis-a-vis the emergence of global cities like Delhi ?
In post-Independent India, a small group of N-E elites left their homes to join the civil services, they are well connected and better off than others. In the case of conflict or violence-induced migration, the movement is not very far, for instance people from Nagaland may move to Dibrugarh, or from Mizoram to Silchar. Everything changed from around 2000 and after. There are many reasons and these differ from state to state, district to district. The tendency of migration is general – of course, violence and conflict are the main reason. But today many people from even a peaceful background (Arunachal or  Mizoram) and less privileged groups leave their home states, mainly for jobs and better incomes, which the home states do not offer, especially for women. Another reason is aspirations and the evolving economy of Indian cities. Thus the profile of the migrants has changed.

Delhi,  as an  emerging global city, is a  preferred destinations for N-E people. It provides jobs for them in retail shops, malls, restaurants and BPOs. This is further facilitated by the space you called “un-Indian”  where the N-E people fit in. Do you mean to say this affirms an “un-Indianess” of people from the N-E, or in other words, N-E people are un-Indian? Further, does this mean that India too has the desire for un-Indian spaces?  
Yes, the N-E people are “un-Indian” even if they try to integrate. Many North-east people told me “I don’t want to be this (an Indian)”, some  do not identify themselves. And there are many who have come to Delhi and say they have a place. But as one Arunachalese said, “At home we are very much Indian (cebrating Republic Day, singing the National Anthem) but they call me chinky here (in Delhi). I don’t want to be Indian anymore.” There is a mixed reaction too, a lot of N-E people I had interacted say it is a little hard! I can imagine and understand that their parents fought against India and here they are trying hard to be Indian.  
The mainland Indian middle class crave for “exotic” spaces, which I call an “un-Indian”space which is a global space. This space elevates their “status” and this requires labour forces. This is where N-E people fit in. This is a niche that didn’t exist 10 years ago for the mainland Indian middle class and this fascinates them.
Any studies or matters related to the N-E always have terms like “backward”, “head-hunter” and “sexy”. Do you see any contradictory/contrasting terms — on one hand it is backward and on the other you see a sexy (urbane) modern N-E?
 I find it bizarre! N-E people were asked in Delhi if they were head-hunters, how they live and what they eat at home. N-E people are seen in two ways, one backward and the other sexy. One of the reasons is tourism – the imaginary where the N-E is seen in  traditional forms and presentations, such as half-naked. In the city they work and dress, they live “urbane”. The two co-exist in the city which is the contact point.

Why do you think the N-E people dislike and are so angry at being called chinky?
In the West “chinky’ is a derogatory word; it is used to address the Chinese. To call an Asian “chinky” has much more meaning. Why should the size of eyes matter? Whether the N-E thinks “Chinese” or not is a different matter. It is used as an excuse to abuse, to yell at people who look different.
 You find that in Delhi both N-E boys/men and girls/women tend to emphasise or enact much more gendered roles, not necessarily as in their home states. What are the key factors and context?
Gender roles are changing among N-E migrants. Men really struggle in Delhi and have anxiety of losing control over women. For women they enact roles that are required of them in their jobs. Whereas women get jobs easily  and most of them find their “independence” in the city, they mostly preferred to stay on.
But most N-E men want to go back home, probably where they can express and actively involve  themselves in work that is masculine or presumed to be for men, such as politics.

In one of your chapters you deal with “Place-making in the city” which has a lot to say about the locals, or the host population of the migrant communities which “allow”or provide such spaces/places to be created. Are such places a forceful or grabbing space? Does this relate to problems faced by the N-E, such as attacks?
The host population benefits from these spaces (created by the migrant) in terms of earning, such as rent for rooms. Yes, there is acceptance by the host population (or the locals) and there is successful space-creating by the N-E people, such as opening a shop (eg, in Munirka). But there are tensions between locals and N-E migrants and this is a reality. Definitely, to some extent the N-E people face problems once they become visible and have a space. Attacks on women take place when the locals know where to find a target.
 One disturbing fact is the brain drain that you have mentioned. How do you see this trend?
This is depressing to see bright N-E young people working in shops and BPOs in Delhi while they can do a lot more in their home states. Also the N-E people living in the cities themselves look down on their own people back home.
  All the bright, good students left their home states, even if you have a good university in the N-E.

You observed and found that North-easterners enact complex and multi-layered identities. Is this more of an “identity crisis” or confusion or transition ?
It is transition.The N-E and its people are cosmopolitan, while “mainland” India is insular. To many N-E people, being in Delhi helps ease some of the tensions back home. Today there is a positive element, such as the back and forth movement; a constant traffic between the N-E and mainland India. But many N-E people still don’t feel at home here, they are not part of the city, they are not members of the residents’ welfare associations. It will take a lot of time to be part of the city for N-E people.
 You concluded in your study that the N-E is in a mess. That the region and the people cannot be studied within a nation-state boundary and that the borders are unsettling. What and how do we read from this conclusion?
The trans-boundary is an important aspect. But there is a change; from not wanting to be an Indian, N-E people are now coming and living here in Delhi. This also tells us a lot about the city – how it accommodates them, such as the church, the pork shop. There are also elements that want the N-E out from Delhi, while some are paternal. But the N-E people handle things here (Delhi) very well. They are very impressive.
The N-E and its people are changing. There is a generational shift. Today parents want their children to venture out of their homes/ states. This indicates how people from the N-E view India. They are prepared to tolerate. Moreover, the city needs them, of course for labour. There is a changing scenario of trust. There are more and more encounters between the N-E frontier and mainland India.
Duncan McDuie-Ra is a senior lecturer in development studies at the School of Social Sciences and International Studies of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.
The interviewer is a Delhi-based freelance contributor
The Statesman - NE page , December 23,2012

Irom Sharmila's fast : After 12 years is it time for a strategic shift ?

It is over 12 years since Irom Sharmila went on a fast for the removal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in Manipur – an unprecedented protest staged by a single individual anywhere in the world. Her symbolic resistance has brought people from all over the country together in the common cause of ending the writ of a draconian law. She has been awarded the Gwangju prize for Human Rights in 2007, a lifetime achievement award from the Asian Human Rights Commission and the Rabindranath Tagore Peace Prize in 2010.

It all started on November 2, 2000. A group of people were waiting for a local bus in Malom, about five kilometres from Manipur’s capital, Imphal. They were mowed down by the Assam Rifles in retaliation to an ambush it had suffered at the hands of some underground groups. The incident created instant public outrage. It changed the lives of not just the 10 who were killed and their relatives, but that of a woman who was in her late 20s. Two days after that incident, Irom Sharmila took her decision to fast until the AFSPA was withdrawn from her state.

Her steely resolve did not immediately create ripples. In fact, her colleagues at Human Rights Alert, the organisation she was associated with then, ran from pillar to post to draw public attention to her call. Despite the lack of broad support, Sharmila persisted with the fast amidst concerted attempts by the state and central governments to force her to withdraw it.

In October 2006, during one of her periodic releases from jail, Sharmila came to Delhi to pay tribute to Mahatma Gandhi, her idol. At that point the local and mainstream media had almost forgotten her existence.

She went on to continue her fast at Delhi’s site of public protest, Jantar Mantar, and was immediately arrested by the Delhi Police. For months, she was confined to a hospital room at the Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in the Capital, under blanket security cover. In 2007, she was shifted to Imphal’s Jawaharlal Nehru Hospital, where she has been ever since. While in Delhi she continued to garner media attention and support from civil society organisations. Booked under Indian Penal Code (IPC) Section 309, which pertains to “attempt to suicide”, Sharmila persisted with her struggle, even as an indifferent State turned a deaf ear to her call.

While much has been said and written about her case, it is her “love story” that has suddenly become the talking point. This, in turn, has proved very controversial with her supporters, especially those belonging to the Meitei community, reacting even violently to it. In September 2011, for instance, they protested against ‘The Telegraph’, for writing exclusively on the “romance”. The protestors demanded an “explanation” from the newspaper for its sensational reportage, even calling for a ban on its circulation in Manipur.

Deepti Priya Mehrotra, who wrote a biography of Irom Sharmila, ‘Burning Bright: Irom Sharmila and the Struggle for Peace in Manipur’ in 2010, believes the stridency of the protest was because her supporters felt the media was focusing on personal matters unduly while putting her political struggle on the backburner. “Her supporters are being painted as if they want Sharmila to continue fast and to be in detention rather than have a personal life, which is far from the truth,” Mehrotra observes.

There could also be another factor – general disquiet over Sharmila’s relationship with a non-Manipuri, since the person in question is of Goan origin with a British citizenship. As Babloo Loitongbam, human rights activist and a close comrade of Sharmila, points out, a society like the Meiteis, where a lot of respect is traditionally paid to elders and customary ways of life, any deviation from the norm causes unease.

Assertions of this kind involve not just Sharmila, but women in general. Vigilante groups have from time to time issued diktats on how women should conduct themselves in terms of dress, marriage and general behaviour. In early 2012, for instance, student bodies in Manipur issued a dress code for girls, insisting that the traditional “phanek” should be their uniform.

Haripriya Soibam, a Delhi University scholar and Manipuri poet, believes that at least some of the anger over Sharmila’s reported ‘romance’ could well be because it indicated that a non-Manipuri journalist had direct access to her while most Manipuri journalists did not.

As for the issue of whether Sharmila should give up her fast or not, Loitongbam is categorical, “It is entirely up to her, whether she wants to continue with it or not. We will support her either way.” However, given the sensitivity of the central issue – the banning of people who are fighting for repeal of AFSPA and branding them anti-national – there is some speculation over the motives of the person who has declared his deep interest in Sharmila. He has also courted controversy by stating in letters to media houses and social networking sites that the local media and Sharmila’s supporters (including women groups) are “deadly against their relationship”. He has, in fact, also claimed for himself the status of being “the only approved spokesperson of Irom Sharmila”.

Anubha Bhonsle, senior journalist with CNN-IBN who had done television documentaries on Sharmila, believes “both sides will have to prove their true intent”. As she puts it, “No one can lay claim to Sharmila, including the man in question. She should be her own master.” Bhonsle also believes it is time that Sharmila herself issue a personal statement to dispel the confusion.

As things stand today, Iron Sharmila has been put on a pedestal and deemed a superhuman. Admits Soibam candidly, “Her iconification is a sad fact. But it is also perhaps inescapable. We have turned her into a universal ‘eche’ (elder sister).” This has its downside. Because she is cast in this superhuman role, her needs as a human being are overlooked. To say that Sharmila has become, more or less, public property would be too harsh, but it has shades of truth, according to Soibam.

Confined as she is to an isolated hospital room, Sharmila has little control over her life. She is dictated to at every turn; her every move is monitored by the State. At the same time, she is also at the command of supporters and human rights activists who have literally taken her cause to the nation and the world with their cry, “Support Sharmila’s fast against AFSPA!”

But some like Bhonsle believe that Sharmila has made enough of a personal sacrifice and people should not insist on her becoming a martyr to the cause. Bhonsle knows that this is easier said than done, “I understand her dilemma of not wanting to let go of the struggle and the fast. After all, she has given 12 good years of her life for it. But the campaign has hinged on Sharmila’s fast for far too long and has tended to focus on commemorating anniversaries.”

Today, according to her, the State and non-state actors want to keep her alive for their own reasons and the time has come for a change in attitude, not just at the civil society level but at the political level.

Should Sharmila then take up a different mode of protest rather than persist with her fast? Soibam believes she should. Mehrotra, not just her biographer but a friend, also feels Sharmila should end her fast and “come out to lead us in the struggle against AFSPA”, while Bhonsle wants her to make her life’s choices “without any guilt”. She believes that women’s groups, who have fought long and hard by her side, should now understand Sharmila’s predicament and rally by her side again – just as they did all those years ago when she first decided to go on fast.

—(Women's Feature Service) December 2012

The Community behind the Leader

Some among the 4,000-strong Burmese community living in Delhi tell their stories as Aung San Suu Kyi, chairperson of the National League of Democracy of Myanmar, meets top Indian leaders and delivers the Nehru Memorial Lecture…

As the Chairperson of the National League of Democracy of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi met Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh at his official residence in New Delhi on Wednesday, pro-democracy Burmese living in India through the years of her house arrest are excited to have her in the city.

Her week-long visit to India began by paying homage to Mahatma Gandhi at Rajghat and Jawaharlal Nehru at Shantivan. She delivered the Nehru Memorial Lecture on the occasion of his birth anniversary.
Meanwhile, her supporters like 62- year-old Mya Mya Aye who fled Burma in 1995 and have been living in Delhi ever since, hope to meet with their leader. The lives led by Mya Aye and others are as much a part of the struggle for democracy, with many of them having given up their homeland for it. Their story also needs to be told.

Once, Mya Aye was a home-maker not too concerned with politics. Married in 1970, she had focused on the job of bringing up her children. Her husband, Dr Tint Swe, a medical doctor who later became a politician, stood for parliamentary elections as a member of the NLD and won from the Paletownship in Monywa division in 1990. He then became the minister of information and public relations in the then National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma.

A massacre in 1988, that followed a popular uprising led by students and which came to be known as the 88 Generation Uprising in Burma changed the lives of all the members of her family drastically. Recalls Mya Aye, “My two sons were among the 88 Generation protestors.” Before long, Mya Aye found herself being drawn into the movement and she joined the NLD party. With the military junta cracking down on the 88 Generation students and the NLD party, her husband and her eldest son fled the country in 1990. The family home and clinic were sealed leaving Mya Aye and her four other children on the run. “From 1992, we couldn’t even get a house on rent, because of the constant surveillance and harassment meted out to house owners who offered us accommodation,” she recalls. In 1995, she came to India and reunited with her husband. The couple has been living in Delhi ever since.

Today, they perceive the winds of change, as a slow democratic transition begins to unfold back home. Mya Aye is now able to be in touch with her relatives and friends through the Internet and Skype, and recently, she could meet up with her cousin sister–in-law Kyi Than at Bodh Gaya in Bihar. Kyi Than had a visa to visit Bodh Gaya, but not one for Delhi. It was an emotional reunion. “We cried a lot – out of happiness, of course. We had so much catching to do, about our lives, our children, ourselves!” exclaims Mya Aye.

Nothing symbolised the change in Burma more powerfully than the release, in 2010, of Aung Sang Suu Kyi who had to suffer house arrest almost continuously from 1989 for her opposition to the ruling military junta. This is why not just Mya Aye, but the 4,000-strong Burmese community living in Delhi, is so excited about greeting her on her first visit to India after her long incarceration.
According to a 2009 survey by Refugee International, there are approximately 50,000 – 1,00,000 displaced Burmese in India – most of whom are in the Northeast and Delhi.

Take Hmaengi Lushai, a Burmese refugee living in Delhi who has been associated with several Burmese women’s groups. Hmaengi underlines the importance of Suu Kyi’s visit for the Burmese refugee community in India by pointing to the fact that the leader had, in fact, during her meeting in Geneva in June this year, talked about the need to support and render help to refugees in India. The impact of her statement in making things easier for the community here was almost immediate, according to Hmaengi. But there is an element of anxiety that lingers. The community is very conscious of the delicate relations that exist between India and the ruling military establishment back home.

Life in India is a struggle for this community, given the daily uncertainties entailed in being refugees. There are also innumerable cultural and behavioural differences to contend with, and women especially have many stories to relate - of discrimination and harassment, including sexual harassment. Some like Mya Aye, who assists her husband at his clinic in Vikaspuri, west Delhi, which provides free service and treatment, have rebuilt new lives for themselves. Others still feel that they are living in a limbo.

But Mya Aye’s husband, Dr Swe counsels patience, “Much will depend on both our countries working towards a mutually beneficial climate of accountability and responsible investment.” He adds with a smile, “Things are still uncertain at present but remember there will soon be a connecting flight from Bodh Gaya to Mandalay. That’s a start!”

(Women’s Feature Service)
November 2012 

Aung San Suu Kyi to deliver JN memorial lecture in Delhi

Two years back in November, about 50 Burmese celebrated the release of democracy icon and Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar, holding placards and calling “ long live Aung San Suu Kyi”. Beyond that was uncertainty. They only knew that their beloved leader was released and not more than that.

Today the dreams of democracy, of freedom, slowly began to dawn in Burma.

Last month Dr Tint Swe , who lives in exiled in Delhi met his sister in Bodh Gaya, India. His sister, a 75 year old Khyi Than got a tourist visa to visit Bodh Gaya. Since the visa was restricted within religious and tourist visit, the family reunited there “ we cried a lot, it was tears of joy “ said Mya Mya Aye who accompanied her husband Dr Tint Swe, a member of Burmese Parliament from the National League of Democracy( NLD) party in the 1990 election from Pale town-ship in Monywa division.

Dr. Tint Swe exclaimed “for the first time, my interview was published in a newspaper in Burma recently , this is a change” .

After a gap of 40 years Aung San Suu Kyi would arrive at Delhi to deliver the Jawaharlal Nehru memorial lecture on November 14. Her schedule includes a lecture at Lady Sri Ram college and meeting with exiled Burmese community. Suu Kyi studied in India when her mother, Khin Kyi, was appointed Myanmar’s ambassador to India in 1960. The 65 year old Aung San Suu Kyi who was arrested in July 1989 for her opposition against the ruling Military regime was awarded the Jawaharlal Nehru international understanding in 1995 by the Government of India.

After five decades of Millitary rule, the momentous release of Daw Su Kyi followed by the process that led up to the April 2012 election when common Burmese citizens came out to exercise their franchise, was a moment, a landmark; the making of history in Burma.

The free movement of common citizens, the media coverage inside Burma and outside of the election process is an important turn of events that can be termed as indicator of the changing process.

Suu Kyi’s travel outside Burma is another notable positive turn of events . She first travelled to Thailand, where she addressed the World Economic Forum .

On the future of Burma, upcoming 2014 election and the Chair for ASEAN, Suu Kyi told ASEAN leaders not to engage in ‘hand outs’ but should ask and demand what ASEAN expect from Burma.
She addressed the British Parliament in London and students at her alma mater at Oxford University. She paid a significant visit to the US that ultimately lifted their sanctions against Burma. US president Barrack Obama is scheduled to visit Burma next week.

Strongly warning ‘investors’ Suu Kyi underscored importance on investment with transparency, accountability, she emphasised on job creation for youths and the need for a judiciary reforms. With cautious words on Burma’s current reformation, she stated that successful move towards improvement of systems, people’s lives will would ‘irreversible reforms’ which in the current state of affairs depends on how committed the ruling government was.

Presently, according to Suu Kyi, Burma is yet to achieve a fully democratic political system. She said that an infant Burmese parliament will take time to find its feet and its voice.

Suu Kyi said that Burma comprises of several ethnic nationalities that makes up the Union of Burma. Stressing the need for mutual respect , Suu Kyi underlined that she and her party, the National League for Democracy had been firmly supported all through the difficult times by the ethnic political parties.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, conferred to her in 1993 was a moving oration. She spoke on a personal note, a lived and living experience of moments, times, bitter-sweet memories. To her the announcement of the nobel peace prize came at a time when she lived in an unreal world and the information did not seem a reality, which she came to know from the radio , that was her only link to the outside world at that time. A world she had actually felt that she no longer belong to.

The Nobel Peace prize brought her back to the world of her fellow human beings, a sense of reality, she said. Slowly, she realized the significance of the prize, which was drawing world attention to the struggle for democracy and human rights in Burma.

The most critical moment in Burma’s transition was the bye election process, noted Suu Kyi.
The enthusiastic participation of people in large num- bers was the reward and encouragement, “the passion of the electorate was a passion born of hunger for something long denied’ she said.

Aung San Suu Kyi recalled the constitution of 1947, drawn between her father, Gen. Aung San and Clement Atlee.

"A constitution is effective only when people accept that it is not an external document that is imposed , but that makes them feel a sense of belongingness . The constitution of 2008 must be amended", she said.
She described her tour to different countries not a sentimental pilgrimage but an exploration of new opportunities for the people of Burma.

More than 15,000 Burmese exiles in Delhi are anxiously awaiting the arrival of Daw Aung Suu Kyi. They have hope; they have many questions in their minds.It may be mentioned that while the world condemn the military rule in Burma, India had remained silent and its engagement with the military in the recent years had not gone down very well with the pro democracy activist.

There could be several reasons , India did not seem to figure in the first priority country in Aung San Suu Kyi’s travel itinerary after her release. A close neighbour India and Burma , share 1600 km border running along Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland

As India welcome the Lady, common Indians and Burmese look forward to a new era that will usher in progress and peace in the region.

Definitely the visit of Daw Suu Kyi, follower of Mahatma Gandhi’s ideals will be an effect, a factor that will impact India and Burma’s future relationship. Most of all the repercussion of Burma’s transition will effect the northeast region , for better or for worst.

The Sangai Express
 November 12,2012, 

Calm before the storm ?

RECENTLY Nagaland chief minister Neiphiu Rio said all 60 members of the Nagaland Assembly and two members of Parliament had declared they were ready to “dissolve” the present government to make way for the final stage of the long drawn “talks” between the Naga underground groups and the Centre. The idea is to form an interim government before the 2013 Assembly elections. The Centre has, however, reportedly shot it down.

Earlier this year, former Union home secretary GK Pillai was reported to have said that the final settlement of the Naga problem was expected sooner rather than later. Till now, there is no sign of any breakthrough. Key players – Naga rebels, civil society and the Centre — are keeping a low profile. There is still no concrete framework, or so it appears, from either side, including the civil bodies. A few vague terms like “economic development”, “packages” and “more autonomy in Naga areas” were all that has been forthcoming.

Could this be the calm before the storm?
 The fear of possible trouble and a law and order problem during the assembly elections were cited by Rio as the main reasons for an alternative arrangement. It may be mentioned that due to such fear of disturbance, the election to the civic bodies, due since 2010, has been postponed indefinitely.
Meanwhile, the Suspension of Operations between the Army, the Kuki National Organisation and the United People’s Front continues. The Kno leader’s recent reaction to the Centre’s non-commitment cannot, however, be underestimated. The NSCN(K) has reportedly termed the talks between the NSCN( IM) and the Centre as a “factional solution”.

Pillai had said that any “peace deal” had to be endorsed by all sections of Naga society, from gaon buras (village headmen) to civil bodies. This is to ensure that no one would turn around and say, after some years, that they were kept in the dark and hence would not accept the agreement.

In a statement, TL Angami, founder-advisor, Village Chief’s Federation Nagaland and caretaker of Naga customary law, reiterated that Pillai needed to be guided or led in the right direction to solve the Naga problem. Memories of burnt villages, people massacred and the rape of Naga women by Indian troops still remained fresh in the minds of gaon buras.

So far, the only progress has been an “alternative arrangement” — a key feature used by the all factions of the NSCN, the state assembly and civil society such as the traditional Naga apex bodies. What actually constitutes an “alternative” has not been spelled out – at least for the public via media reports. The supra state model/concept has been denied by both the NSCN(IM) and the Centre. While civil bodies avoid comment, other factions have brushed it aside as an NSCN(IM) agenda.

It would not be wrong to say that there is a shortage of intellectual input and a draining of ideas on all sides. One prominent factor that comes in, going by the latest series of reports, are Pillai’s comments on the changing socio-politics in neighbouring Myanmar. The Khaplang faction is also likely to look towards Naypidaw rather than Delhi, which would involve a separate arrangement for Nagas in Manipur.

Amidst the fast changing global scenario and the evolution of new perspectives, the transborder ethnic nationalities of North-east India are caught in the web of transition where the market is mightier than the pen and the gun. Pillai was quoted as having said that contacts between Nagas on either side of the border could continue through trade and commerce, referring to Manipur’s border outlet of Moreh.

The formula fits well with India’s emerging interest in Southeast Asia, wherein the North-east region serves as a strategic gateway. The Look East Policy, with development of the North-east region as one component, was evolved in the early ’90s. It is believed that this will improve India’s relationship with its immediate neighbour Myanmar and its emerging influence in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Emerging changes in Myanmar have also impacted the context of India, its policy towards the North-east and the world at large.

As it stands today, India’s main interest, both domestic and external, lies in economic advancement, come what may. In Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s words, the Lep is not merely an economic policy, it is also a strategic shift in India’s vision of the world and India’s place in the evolving global economy.
For the success of this vision, the eastern frontier region became important. It may be remembered that India’s has 1,643 km borders running along Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram. On a practical note, such policies and economic imagination are far from realistic. Indo-Myanmarese border trade witnessed a diminishing trend from Rs 59.56 crore to Rs 7.54 between 1995 and 2001 (NEDFi report). Items at Moreh market are allegedly more illegal than legal goods, and are mostly third country products — Chinese goods, to be specific. Several proposed mega projects are still on paper, such as the Kaladan project, an agreement for which was signed in 2008, are yet to materialise.

Baladas Ghoshal of the Centre for Policy Research told this writer that India’s Look East Policy was mainly for extending linkages into Southeast Asia. According to him, the North-east is a bridge, but the main problem lies in underdevelopment of the region. Moreover, there was no blueprint for infrastructure development and the region did not have the capacity to take advantage of the role of being the mainland bridge, said Ghoshal.

Many renowned scholars on India-Myanmar relations are also skeptical of that country’s current position, observing that it would be too early to bank on its transition to democracy. Years down the line, the government of India should not look back and say it did not understand and, therefore, had not anticipated a mess.

The Statesman North East Page 
September 17, 2012

Uneasy lives of northeast migrants

Dim Sian Niang has been living in Bangalore, Karnataka, for the last eight years. She came here from Manipur to pursue her higher studies and then decided to stay on in the beautiful garden city after she secured a lucrative job as a merchandiser with a multi-national company. Life had been chugging along just fine for her and her siblings – they all live together in a rented accommodation in the Lingarajpura locality – until violent clashes broke out between the Bodos and the Bangla-speaking Muslims in certain districts of Assam in mid-July. 
The effects of that conflict have been felt all across India, with northeast migrant communities in major metros hastily making their way back to their home states by the train-loads, leaving behind their homes and jobs. This mass exodus was triggered after random threats of attacks were circulated through the social networking sites and SMSs on mobile phones.
It all started when reports of attacks on Northeast students and professionals in Kondwa, Pune, made it to the front pages of the newspapers in mid-August. This was followed by other sporadic incidents in which more than 10 students were targeted. According to Rock Lungleng, Convener of the Forum for Northeast Students in Pune, in the days after those initial incidents many northeastern people were followed or attacked on the streets, while some were called out from their rented rooms or homes and beaten up. “We lodged FIRs at different police stations and ever since then we have been appealing for calm. We want to deal with the matter in the most peaceful way,” he says.
In an effort to handle the situation, Pune-based student leaders sent out advisories via SMS and Internet asking students to avoid venturing out alone after 7 pm or to move in groups.
Unfortunately, the threats and rumours made their way to Bangalore, Hyderabad and Mumbai via SMS and Facebook. Messages threatening Northeast migrants to “leave before the 20th” started appearing in their email and phone in-boxes. Appeals and assurances of safety by the Karnataka government notwithstanding, people from Northeast started fleeing the state in hordes – as per official estimates Bangalore has a sizeable Northeastern population of 2.5 lakh to 2.75 lakh.
Although Niang didn’t receive any such message, she decided to stay put in the city, although the feeling of uneasiness never left her. “My colleagues and friends have told me not to worry and have assured me of their help in case I face any problem, yet I feel vulnerable,” she says.

It’s to lay to rest fears of girls like Niang that student activist and management graduate, Monika, has been trying to bring together community leaders and student groups from the Northeast and other communities to interact with each other and “clear the air”. “We have also held several interactions with the state authorities and security agencies,” she says.

Bangalore’s Director General of Police Lalrokhuma Pachau, who is himself from the Northeast, insists that no incidents of violence were reported in the city. But Monika believes that this is because not many would have had the nerve to file complaints, given the state of panic they were in. “While the police should understand this situation, on our part we have been appealing to the community to report any incident to their respective student or community leaders so that it’s on record,” she elaborates.

Of course, amidst all this fear and panic, there are a few resilient voices from within the community that are using this recent crisis to highlight the discrimination and neglect that migrants from the Northeast, particularly young women, face on an on-going basis. Some of them are also looking ahead to ways in which such incidents can be contained in the future.

Dr. Rini Ralte, a professor at United Theological College, Bangalore, is one of them. A resident of Bangalore for the last 20 years, this Mizo woman is actively coordinating interactions between the local people and Northeast representatives. 

Besides this, she and her team are lending support to girls who have not fled the city but are holed up in their homes fearing violence if they move around openly. “After one such rescue operation, a girl told me it was the first time she came out to see sunshine in seven days,” she says.
For Ralte this “crisis is an opportunity to set many things right”. 

According to her, on a daily basis, young Northeast boys and girls face serious problems that range from demands for higher room rents to harassment and abuse in the workplace to random racial attacks and discrimination. “If in the course of our increased inter-community interactions we can help sort out certain issues and misconceptions, it will greatly help in the future,” she adds.

Things may not be so pleasant right now but Niang feels that once the threat perception comes down, people will definitely start returning, simply because there are limited employment and education options back home.

But Dr Monisha Behal, the founder member and Chairperson of North East Network (NEN), is concerned about the fate of those who are employed in the labour or service industries. “What will happen to those who left suddenly without informing the management, or those who are on contract?” she wonders, adding, “I think now there is a need to adopt a positive attitude. We must be aware and assert our legal rights enshrined in the Constitution and the Indian Penal Code. 

This will generate confidence among the community.”
Meanwhile, Namrata Goswami, Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis, Delhi, believes that the government can play a more effective role in controlling such incidents. She asserts that the viable response of the state to this kind of violence is for the Union Home Minister and Home Secretary to come on national television to ensure everybody that “rumours” or “misleading information” are being duly countered. 

According to the researcher-analyst, another way the state can respond is by increasing police presence in the areas prone to such violence. “The policing must be visible,” she says.

These appear to be bizarre times for the people of the Northeast. It’s been more than a month since violence first broke out between the Bodos and the Muslim minority community in Assam, resulting in the killing of nearly 75 people. 

The Bodoland Territorial Council (BTAD) districts of Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa, and Udalguri, as well as the neighbouring district of Dhubri, continue to remain tense with nearly 400,000 people displaced, and forced to take shelter in 300 or more relief camps.

The big question on everybody’s mind is this: How can we ensure that such tragic and deplorable developments never occur again? 

women feature service
 August - September 2012

cruel picture of a victimised region

WHETHER coincidence or timely precaution, the Australian government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade recently issued a travel advisory for its citizens planning to travel to India. They were informed that the inter-communal violence in Kokrajhar, Chirang and Dhubri districts of Assam had caused a number of deaths, injuries, displacements and disruptions in transport services. It cautioned that curfew had been imposed and further violence could occur.

Any Australian visiting India was told to exercise extreme caution if there were plans to go to India’s North-east. The advisory warned of armed robbery, kidnapping, extortion and terrorism-related incidents. “Insurgent groups have attacked civilians and bombed buildings in rural areas of these states with the increasing risk of terrorist attack in any public place, anytime at the heart of the metropolitans such as Delhi and Mumbai.” It asked its citizens to take note of the major secular and religious holidays that could provide terrorists an opportunity or pretext to stage an attack and not to step out or make such plans for those days.

Such advice and precaution, specifically from foreign countries, seem hardly relevant as far as North-east India is concerned, given that the region is infamously a conflict zone, where interstate communal and ethnic violence heads the list. This image of the North-east is, unfortunately, a cruel picture of the victimised region being given out to the world. While the advisory’s assumption could be brushed aside as a mere precautionary guide for tourists, yet it would make sense if one takes it seriously, given the region’s apprehension about “alien” visitors. The student movement in the districts of Assam and Manipur primarily emphasise the “go back foreigners” protest. In the recent Assam violence, All Assam Students’ Union advisor Samujjal Bhattacharyya said, “The international border should have been sealed a long back to prevent intruders. It is because of this that we are facing the music.” Such movements were also directed against mainlanders (Chinese), who have flooded the province in terms of the business, labour and service sectors.

One such case involved violence, arguments and analysis that were either diplomatically or otherwise woven around ethnic clashes – with subsequent development focused on relief packages and compensation. At the end of the day, a generalised and simplistic rationale produced the concluding remark that the problems of the North-east were “complex”.

As the situation evolved, then Union home minister P Chidambaram, right after visiting the violence-hit districts of Assam, was no longer holding his portfolio. Will all his “promises, statements and announcements” be reinforced by the high command? And by whom, his successor, Sushilkumar Shinde? One thing is quite evident — inhabitants displaced from their homeland must prepare to remain in relief camps for a considerable span. Indeed, what everyone is aware of is that recurring violence is not the first of its kind, either in Assam or other North-eastern states.

Meanwhile, Manipur’s civil society has once again upped its demand for implementation of the Inner Line Permit – whereby restrictions are applied to Indian states, apart from the seven sisters of North-east, although the Centre has made it clear that the ILP is just not a state subject. To cut a long story short, locals are insecure. Development or progress is equated with an open market and a widening of North-east horizons so as to remove the shackles of isolation and keep pace with the outside world.

The need of the hour, therefore, is to restore peace and order.

It is important that the Centre not only “pays attention to the east” but keenly intervenes in matters that concern not only poverty and special packages but acts to put the region on a par with the other states and reinvent its image so as to attract tourists who would contribute to its economy.

The writer is a Delhi-based freelance contributor

The Statesman Northeast Page
August 19,2012

how NE women cope with big city

How North-east women cope with the big city. By ninglun hanghal
‘Girl from Manipur molested, allegedly by Gurgaon neighbour”; “Northeast girls molested by Air India staff”; “Dana Sangma suicide: Amity denies discrimination”… Of late, the media have been full of reports on the insecure lives of thousands of young women who come to the Capital from India’s northeastern states to study or seek gainful employment.
According to the ‘North East Migration and Challenges in National Capital Cities 2011’, a study by the North East Support Centre & Helpline, over 314,850 people had migrated from the Northeast to Delhi and other cities between 2005 and 2009. Delhi, of course, has emerged as one of the most popular destinations – the University of Delhi is a magnet for those interested in higher studies, while the sparkling lights of the retail and BPO sectors in the National Capital Region (NCR) beckon unemployed youth.
But these opportunities apart, life in the NCR is far from salubrious, particularly for women. It is now an established fact that both men and women from the Northeast are subject to racial discrimination, even violence. Incidents of physical violence, rape and even murder are not uncommon experiences. The reasons for such bestial acts are varied. For instance, women could find themselves under attack in the patriarchal milieu of north India, because they look different, or appear “modern” and “free”.
Shang and Renu, who have been living in Delhi for over two years, prefer however not to dwell on the “dangers” too much. Ever since the two friends, who are both in their early 20s, came to Delhi from Manipur, they have simply played it safe. They live in a relatively safe middle-class colony in south Delhi with their relatives, and work at a gift shop in a high-end mall located just a few kilometres away. For assisting shoppers and keeping a cheerful demeanour all day, they take home a modest monthly salary of any thing between Rs 10,000 and Rs 13,000 (US$1=Rs 55.4). “It’s nice working here,” says Shang, with a soft smile, adding, “You will find that most showrooms here have staffers from the Northeast.”
Shang is right. Just a few metres away, at a skin and body care products counter, Jolly and Margaret, also in their early 20s, are busy at work. Dressed in white coats and aprons, the two girls pleasantly explain the benefits of the range on offer to prospective customers. For their hard work – they are mostly on their feet and have to be patient with everyone who visits their kiosk – they earn Rs 20,000 every month. Both the girls live in rented accommodation. While Jolly stays with her brother, who works in a BPO, Margaret shares her home with a cousin, who works in a shopping complex.
Ask these young women about the hardships they endure in a city like Delhi and they remark that the harassment, discrimination and bad behaviour they encounter are so ubiquitous that such behaviour has almost become “normal and usual” for them. Street stalkers, misbehaving cabbies, random bystanders who keep staring, they encounter them every day. But they have learnt to deal with the “risks” by making sure that they travel in groups, and by bonding with colleagues and friends.
In fact, these are among the most common coping mechanisms reported. For instance, all the young women we spoke to told us that they invariably had a colleague, friend or relative from their home state at their workplace on whom they depended when things got tough or emotionally draining in a highly competitive office environment. Moreover, they make it a point to live with their siblings, relatives, or friends – cultural ties help to create a sense of security. There are spin-offs of such arrangements: Sharing a flat helps save money – and although earn enough to send money home on a regular basis, savings come in handy for gifts for festive occasions.
Most young northeastern women with a high school certificate or college degree prefer to work in malls and shopping complexes because they are better in terms of physical security and work timings. Most of them get off by 10 pm and can easily take an autorickshaw back home – cheaper than hiring a cab – since they are still plying on the roads at that hour. For those doing the graveyard shifts, like BPO employees, the risks are much higher. A major source of disquiet is the transportation arrangements made by BPO employers for those on night shifts.
Khanching from Manipur, who works in an UK-based outbound insurance telemarketing company in south Delhi, starts her shift at 3.30 in the afternoon and gets off past midnight. Although she has been doing this job since 2008, hardly a day goes by when she is not on her guard. Like the other women we talked to, Khanching, who earns around Rs 18,000 per month, also lives in a middle-class neighbourhood, with her younger brother, a college student.
The problem often is that the vehicle that drops women like Khanching home cannot access the narrow lanes of many residential colonies in Delhi. So they are dropped off on the main road and often have to make their way at that late hour past groups of young men, some of whom may be drunk. But Khanching has found a way out even in this challenging scenario, “Since my cab cannot come up at my doorstep, it’s my male colleagues – also from the Northeast – who drop me.” She also showed us a bottle of Spray COP alert, which can temporarily disable an assailant. Although she makes sure to carry it in her bag every day, she has fortunately never needed to use it she says.
Among the scores of young women working in the retail and BPO sectors, are several young women entrepreneurs, too. Take the five Mizo women who run a beauty parlour in south Delhi. Mazami, who manages the salon, came to the city in 2008 and her friends joined her later. Today, at their home-cum-salon, they pitch in and do everything together. They share the rent; they rustle up meals and, of course, work jointly. The parlour opens at 10 am, and the women work through the day, cutting hair or doing facials and the like until 8 pm. Sunday is an off day – they spend it by going to church and visiting relatives across the city.
In Delhi, the beauty business can sometimes mean big bucks. Mazami, who manages to make over Rs 20,000 a month, reveals that it is also a demanding line of work. “Sometimes I get very tense,” she says. The bulk of her customers are from the Northeast. “People from our region do not feel very comfortable going to other parlours because of the language barrier. They feel free and comfortable here,” says Mazami, who is undergoing training at Jawed Habib Hair & Beauty Ltd. She has big plans for the future. “I am looking forward to expanding my parlour,” she smiles.
Her words are a reminder of the inherent resilience and never-say-die spirit of these young women. Despite the shabby treatment meted out to them, they have kept themselves and their families going. While support structures are few, those that do exist are a great help in times of trouble. There are also groups working to change attitudes and build bridges between different communities. Some run helplines and websites to register complaints.
What’s interesting is that although every woman we talked to is aware of the dangers of living in a city like Delhi, none of them is fazed. They believe they have made the right decision by migrating to the big city and making the most of the opportunities that come their way.

women's feature services
August 2012

Lyrics of a Conflict Song: Creating of the Stereotypes

  eastern quarterly, a jounal published by manipur research forum ( delhi) vol 7, issue I&II spring and monsson 2011

Lyrics of a Conflict Song: Creating of the Stereotypes 
“Manipur , a state equated in popular representation as conflict torn area has seen the manifestation in armed insurgency and HIV – AIDS. While conflict has adversely affected the social fabric, its representation has reduced the conflict into simplistic hills – valley animosity and is steeped in stereotypes”. 
Today the state of Manipur is notoriously equated with conflict. Problems that the state of merely 2.2 millions population is faced with, is far greater than what one would normally expect. Two major areas in which conflicts get manifested are armed insurgency and HIV–AIDS. There are other related areas of conflict like ethnic tension, religious animosity, hills-valley divide, rural-urban divide, etc. All these have in fact wracked the social fabric of the place and its people.
But more worrisome trend amidst these forms of conflict is the way these conflicts have been represented by people who are crafted with the art of representation, be it writing of novels, scholarly books, print and electronic media, films and photographs. Several stereotypes of the state, and also many other states of the region, have been projected in the recent past. The documentary film titled Manipur Song by a well-known film maker, Pankaj Butalia, is one such representation that depicts the region and the people in a bad taste. The film was telecast on August 15, 2010 coinciding with India’s independence day by NDTV Profit, a Delhi based national television which focus on business and market. Certainly sensationalization beomes the mantra of such production houses and film makers, for that will bring greater market avenues.
Butalia’s film picturizes armed conflict, drug abuse and prostitution in a most blatant and sterotyped form that is completely devoid of any effort to capture the nuanced human conditions shaped by a violent culture of conflict. There is no denying the fact that Manipur today is one of the most violent states in the world. With a data of 369 insurgency related fatalities in 2009, the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) in its assessment year 2010, stated that Manipur is the most violent state in India followed by Assam with 344 fatalities. But role of a film maker is little more than merely presenting the facts. There is much to be read about the intentions and politics behind making of such films.
Next comes the HIVAIDS “epidemic,” a term used by UNAIDS. Manipur has a record of being the highest percentage of adult HIV prevalence state in India according to the 1998–2006 estimate of National Aids Control Organization (NACO), where Manipur shows 1.67 per cent, while the country’s overall estimate is 0.36 per cent. The HIV–AIDS data and statistics are self explanatory in itself. Subsequently, Manipur was the first state in India to have a State AIDS Policy; the Manipur government adopted the State AIDS Policy on 3rd October, 1996. Later the Manipur State AIDS Control Society (MACS) was formed and registered in March, 1998. According to the society’s recorded data from 1986 till August, 2010, there are a total of 4589 AIDS cases, where 3316 are males and 1273 are females, with record of 645 deaths due to AIDS. It says Manipur contributes nearly 8 per cent of  India’s total HIV positive cases.
With such a back ground that is alarming, many from within and outside the state have studied this land and its people with a sense of “excitement.” But few try to understand the pain and sufferings that the common people in the region have survived decades of suppression and violence. While a study on aspects of conflict is likely to open the “pandora’s box,” that is still a welcome step compared to those narratives that remain in the peripheral level and merely sensationalizes. Pankaj Butalia’s Manipur Song is one such case in point.
The year 1947 has become more or less a land mark in the history of Manipur and Northeast India at large. The end of the colonial rule becomes a point of contention for the people of the region on evolving new political processes. It brought tremendous changes in terms of socio political life of the people. Manipur have had the experience of resistance movements – of armed non state groups and pressure groups with several claims starting from sovereignty, self determination, autonomous administration, to recognition for schedule tribe status (ST), etc. As stated above, besides the conflicts of state versus non state, numerous inter and intra communal strifes have also been witnessed. In the face of all these, there is also a perception by a large section of the people in Manipur (also of the Northeast) that they do not (think to) belong to India. Though such a perception is often seen as state of emotion, this certainly forms a strong case for opposition against the “forced annexation” into India. Indeed Manipur and communities of the Northeast India actually comprise of independent and distinctive cultural identities. Oral histories, folk tales passed on from one generation to another narrate stories of past glory, self sufficiency, abundance of natural resources, self governance, distinctive culture and tradition. This distinctiveness of a different entity called “Manipur” or the “Northeast India at large,” fairly different from the mainland India. 
Subsequently as much as Northeasterners do not feel a sense of belongingness, the geophysique further alienate the region creating a psychological distance. This differences also generate indifferences by the “mainlanders,” while people inhabiting this region feels “foreign” to the mainland India. These factors of “difference and indifference” manifest in various forms, kinds and magnitude. While on one hand, people of the Northeast feels discriminated and alienated for being different, manifest in the form of violent resistance and demands for self determination, on the other hand, mainlanders’ indifference towards the region manifest in the form of misperception, judgmental opinion, attitude and treatment particularly towards the women folk of this region.    
Manipur Song began with an introductory note on the political history of Manipur. The introduction narrates that the appropriation (merger) of Manipur into the Indian Union after the British left India in 1947 leading to insurgency movement in Manipur, which was quite understandably anti-Indian. The introduction rightly notes Manipur’s sovereignty and its existence as an independent kingdom. Simultaneously it goes into picturing the Laiharaoba dance and a traditional Meitei marriage procession, showcasing Manipur’s socio culture and tradition that is different from mainland India’s.
This is followed by a generalised introduction stating that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), 1958, was introduced in the region because of the insurgency movement in Manipur, further mentioning that over 20 such insurgent groups operate in the state. The introduction also underlines the conflict between these insurgent groups, underdevelopment, drugs, HIVAIDS, stating that there are many irreconcilable problems. The introduction while underlining Manipur’s different socio cultural and practices, noting its rich culture, gives a generalised and negated version over the issue and problems facing the state. It remains to be understood what irreconcilable problems the film maker tries to tell about and why was it irreconcilable. This negative outlook sends a de-motivating message for those who live their life with hope and for those who believe that reconciliation is one possible solution for conflict.
The narration says that the film maker travels from Delhi, the national capital, in 2004, being provoked by certain incidents. This was followed by video footage of the nude protest, police firings, angry youth out in the streets with slogans. The narration does not give any background information as to what it is all about, why those incidents took place. It was left to the viewers to try to grapple with the footage. As a viewer, a Manipuri residing in Delhi, I assume that what provoked the film maker would be the heighten protest in aftermath of the alledged rape and killing of Th. Manorama Devi in July 2004, more so the infamous “nude protest” as the narration gives much emphasis over it stating that it had caught national media attention. As for those who does not know much about Manipur, or mainland Indians at large, it would appear just a groups of angry young people, police firing protesters who defy the law or heartening nude protest of elderly women. The pictures do not leave otherwise the desired impact, definitely not to the mainland Indians. Or one wonders if the film maker intentionally wants opacity to remain.
The documentary was segregated into episodic parts; viz. Violence: the backyard of nationalism, The diaspora as periphery, Living on the edge, and On the notion of collateral. The first and foremost episode began with nationalism and separatist story. First beginning with the United National Liberation Front, a Meitei group, describe as a political movement and are fighting to regain self determination from the India state, its Chairman Sana Yaima giving an interview to the camera. On continuation the film narrated that the other millitant groups  who were categorically tribal groups “dislike” the Meitei group – viz. the Nagas, Kukis and the Zomis. As per the description in the film, these Meitei groups are exclusively supposed to be the people who inhabiting the then sovereign Manipur kingdom and subsequently the territorial boundary of todays’ Manipur state. The background narrative also states that these militant insurgent groups are fighting among themselves in a structured hierarchal order of Meitei militants fighting the “Indian State” for self determination, were in turn “fought” by the next larger group, the Nagas, who in turn is targetted by the Kukis, who are then targetted to by the Zomis. A chain of resistance by the smaller group upon the immediate bigger group is what is being shown. The chain goes to include the Paites, other sub group of the Zomi. This is rather simplistic and an over generalised statement. The film maker’s perceived notion that the smaller groups or the other communities inhabiting the “Meitei land” have no political standing are highly bias at several levels of the articulation. It shows lack of proper understanding of the complexity of identity claims and armed resistance movement associated with the same. All the armed militants or insurgents groups mentioned by Butalia have their own political ideologies and should be clubbed under a larger basket of the “non state.” In spite of the fact that inter – intra community rivalry may emerge in course of their political struggles, which is not so strange considering the multiplicity of ethnic groups and their aspirations, yet these should not be the “background introduction” of the “non state” movements which is primarily a political struggle, at least theoretically and ideologically.
This episode also tells about how youths are lured into the life of militants or militancy. This is a typical narrative of the statist discourse. There is nothing new in this representation, thus showing a case of old wine in new bottle. This episode also shows the “romantic” daily lives of the young militants. But the real life is quite different from the reel life, another form of stereotype representation. To this extent it shows some parallel with Bollywood films. While living underground in jungles with a gun is never a peaceful life, only a Bollywood film throws some excitement into the audience. Not only the militants suffer hardship, even their family members do face hardship in everyday life.
Another level of suffering is the sense of fear and tormant faced by the former (surrendered in fewcases) militants, their wives, and widows of the militants killed. They face discrimination at different levels. The fake encounter killing of Sanjit , a surrendered militant, at Imphal’s B.T. Road in July 2009 tell us that a militant is always a militant, an identity of no return. Emergence of organizations like Extrajudicial Execution Victims Association Manipur (EEVAM), Manipuri Women Gun Survivor Network, etc. say a lot about the life faced by the people associate with the movement. There is nothing extraordinarily exciting about their so called “romantic life.” This is yet again an attempt (perhaps deliberate) to reduce the entire politics of armed struggle into triviality of romance. Similar is the case where representation of child soldiers is made as victims. This in a way is to deny them as political actors.[i]
An interview of a “meira paibi” activist, Ima[ii] Taruni, was shown synchronised with several footages of violent incidents and protests, well crafted to delegitimise the movements. Ima Taruni speaks about one such incident before the camera where hundreds of women came out for a protest rally. This is followed by pictures of the incident she was supposedly speaking about. There was no background narration. The Ima said “at Thangmeiband THAU ground, we took out a protest rally… the police fired at us... many were killed…. Many injured... we ran helter skelter… many people jump into the river…. There were chaos and commotion… chappal (slippers) and clothes were scattered everywhere....” In the subtitle transcribed in English were these lines “… women left their clothes. They lost control of what they were wearing.” Connect this narrative with Kangla nude protest. The film maker seems to be delibeately planting this idea to the viewers that  Manipuri women have very little sense of dressing, as if dresses are easily thrown out or pulled out in an incident. So, protesting without clothes is an extension of their “casualness” about their dress. The film has done violence on sexuality of women by this projection of a stereotype image about Manipuri women. The meira paibis (torch bearers) women’s groups, widely acclaimed for their courage and roles in socio-political lives, were not even asked to give their opinion or views, but only recollections of an event like a protest or a violent incident. The film maker does all the interpretation. This is yet again a violence to the political sensibility of these women activists, giving the impression as if they are incapable of thinking and organising praxis.  
The issue of migation is also touched upon by the film maker. Migration of youth leaving home states, or for that matter home country, for greener pastures is nothing new. Migration from rural to urban centres (towns and city) is an all India phenomenon. Migration also takes place in non-conflict zones as well. For instance, migration of people from Bihar and Utter Pradesh to Mumbai is a case in point. In fact, migrations from non-conflict zones would be at times higher than migrations from conflict zones. This is an universal phenomenon. So migration of youths from a conflict zone like Manipur for higher studies and employment should not be seen only due to the push factor, but there are pull factors like job oportunities, wider facilities. Today migration from rural India to urban India is taking place cutting across region, ethnicity and violence. Migration phenomenon should be studied much more seriously.
A student supposedly studying in Delhi gave analysis of conflict, its impact and explanations of daily struggle in a metro city that does not welcome her. Her analysis and explanations appear to be based on the video footage from the same documentary film Manipur song, with some of the same words and phrases from the film. She is also shown to watch the same footages. The choice of charcter as respondent is pathetic.
An episode on the life of an ex militant turned drug users is shown to explain connection of militancy to drugs. This is but badly done. Though the interviews of the male addicts are shown under a “capacity building” workshop of an NGO, the focus is on family stories, their ignorance of joining miltancy, and hopelessness that led to drug abuse. This is a neat but poor script narating interconnection between militany and druge abuse – all that the film says is that militants engage with druge smuggling and in turn are victims themselves. Though there might be greater connection between the two, militant organizations’ drug trading has to do largely with procuring money to buy arms. And there are much larger issues involved in drug use and HIVAIDS, the case of broken family, social unrest, and role of family. Factors behind everything connected to drug abuse cannot be zeroed down to armed militancy. That is too simplistic a story.  
The episodes also tell the story of women commercial sex workers (CSW) cum drugs users living in shabby shelters in Imphal town ( the state capital) . While there is no officially notified “red light” areas in Manipur, nor CSW a visible population, the tailor made self confessional “bare show” of the life of sex workers and demonstration of their skills in drug use was strikingly odd. Suggestively, the names of the selected CSW women who confessed were called “lalli and heting” these names were not suffixed with “name changed” in the subtitle. Even if the names were changed, why not a Sunita or a Priyanka?
The incorrect translation of some of their dialogue do indicate the film maker’s presumption of what a CSW should be feeling or narrate before the camera. One of them said in native language “… when I look back, I feel nostalgic, or rather so to say… let down.” This is translated as “I now regret all that I have done in all my life.” This shows lack of sincerity and moral concern.
In as much prostitution is considered the oldest profession in the world, though forced into the trade, CSW does not necessarily regret their lives. Munni, CSW from Sonagachi, a red-light district in Kolkata in her interview with United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) when  asked whether she would like to leave the brothel, she said “… ‘Ma’ will never let me go and she is good to me and this is my home. She has promised to send me to Mumbai someday. I am here of my own will. Even if I leave this place where will I go? I have a secret lover and he used to be one of my regular customers. He is a taxi driver and we are planning to marry.”[iii]
A comparative look at the two episodes shows a gendered segregated treatment by the film maker. The militant turned drug addicts, all of them men, were at a rehabilitation camp, receiving treatment and training. While the women CSW comprised only of their personal or past lives, origin and background, dependency on drugs and their daily struggles. One of the men drug addict, identified as Kalachand, even went to the extent of pushing his mother to tell before the camera that without knowing the consequences she had paved the way for  his sons’ addiction. Wife of one of the ex militant turned drug addict was also made to “talk” about the HIVAIDS “status” of her addict husband.
The two episode interviews appeared more like a “confession” and a scripted dialogue. The male drug users spoke on issues they faced, first as militants then as surrendered militants and eventually as drug addict. The women sex workers cum drug addicts spoke before the camera about their life history, sex and drugs. They even demonstrated for the viewers on “intravenous drug use!”
The HIVAIDS scenario in Manipur is certainly disturbing. But it is simplistic and abrupt to just conclude a narrative with the story of a drug addict, commercial sex worker and story of HIV children. Jackindia,[iv] an organization working on HIVAIDS publishes that AIDS was first diagnosed in the United States in early ’80s,  but many still look to Africa for its origin, blaming African monkeys and African sexual behaviours. As per research the High Risk Group comprises of tribals, truck drivers and sex workers. As such Africa and India were labelled as the epicentre of AIDS and the world’s AIDS capital respectively. The publication also quoted the identification of High Risk Group in Kerala in 1996 by the  British Overseas Development Administration, now DfiD listing tribals, street children and sex workers.
Interestingly, Jackindia further states that in Kerala there were no street children per se and that sex workers were not a visible group. It also says that this process of identification of High Risk group is a creation of new untouchables. The publication strongly brings out the linkages of the statistics, research, health policies, intervention strategy of HIVAIDS and concludes that the whole business was a new mechanism of colonization. The dirty and ugly looking drug addicts or women sex workers are not mere collateral victims of conflict but are probable agencies of the new mechanism for colonization. Rather than sensitization or awareness, stories of children (all of them girls) who were staying at Sneha Bhawan would generate the formation of future generation of “untouchables.”
UNAIDS and NACO had listed three most important legal entities in regard to HIV scenario: (i) Right to Informed Consent/Privacy –  a legal and ethical concept related to access and use of data/personal information; (ii) Right to Confidentiality – right to protection and unauthorized use of data; and (iii) Right against Discrimination – regarding fundamental rights and entitlements.
In a discussion on films and film making, award winning filmmaker Sunzu Bachaspatimayum told this writer “… if you are showing CSW or HIV persons, HIV children, traffic victims, you need to have a signed consent from the person.” Explaining further the making of his national award winning film Shingnaba,  a film on HIVAIDS, Bachaspatimayum further said “… in one of the scene where the HIV person was to be shown with his girlfriend, the girlfriend agreed to come before the camera, but I shot her below the neck till the feet without showing her face. Again after the filming I showed her how it would look like. Later she asked me to delete her part from the film; so I deleted it.” Even in cases of informed consent he said “we blur it.” On receiving a national award for his film AFSPA 1958, Bachaspatimayum had reportedly said  that “for a non feature film or a documentary it requires in-depth understanding as well as sensitivity of the issue by the film maker.”[v]
Beside the bad boys, the dirty and ugly looking drug users, and shameless sex workers, presentation of Irom Sharmila was ironic. In the whole episode on “The passion of Sharmila,” the contents were only of emotions and personal moments. Sharmila’s role in the film looked scripted for the “crying scene.” A woman read her poem and cried. Sharmila herself was at the end in tears. Compare this with Gandhi and his determined and hardened soul. Often described as the icon of democracy and non-violence, Irom Sharmila was on the contrary asked to speak on “humanity, emotions, dreams,” none of her political thoughts came into the scene. This looks like a subtle and well crafted design of showing softer side ( rather the “feminine”) of Sharmila, a lady in tears. This in a way mallows down, if not delegitimise, fourteen years long fast for repeal of AFSPA and her political struggle of non-violence.
Stating that the government is taking no initiative for dialogue with Sharmila while many violent resistant movements are invited for “peace talks,” Civic Chandran, who scripted a one act play Meira Paibi, questioned, “… is it because Sharmila is an ordinary woman and from Northeast? Or is non-violence unromantic?”[vi]
The Manipur Song as a whole seems to be trying to sensitize “mainland India” on the whole range of issues that engulf Manipur. For a distant spectator, the 60 minute documentary appears to be mere collection of incidents, social evils, the “bad” and the “ugly.” Presentation of women particularly scenes in the “Notion of collateral” makes an uncomfortable viewing, provoking viewers to question ethical and sensitive dimensions. The introduction rightly states that “the nature of the conflict is so complex that it is difficult to portray a clear cause and effect relatonship.” Neither a clear message for the audience nor an insightful analysis of the issues in question, one wonders whose interest the film is going to serve. The episodes lack interconnections and linkages. The documentary film affirms mainland India’s patriarchal indifference to the stories of the margins. 
Notes & References

[i]  This is from Meha Dixit’s writing “Dirty looking stones,” Hard News, September 2010.
[ii] The term “Ima” meaning “mother” is usually used to address the women activists with a sense of respect.
[iii] Sonagachi, the largest legal red light district in Kolkata shot to fame after a documentary Born into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids won the Academy Award in 2004. Source: UNODC website,
accessed during September 2010.
[iv] See Jackindia, “HIV–AIDS Industry,” 2002.
[v]  As stated in The Sangai Express, March 19, 2010.
[vi] The questions were raised by Civic Chandran at a performance of the play Meira Paibi based on the life of Sharmila in Delhi in May 2010. For details see, The North East Sun, June 16–30, 2010.